7 Fictional Female Detectives to Discover Now
With three separate take-charge women solving crimes and defying stereotypes on MASTERPIECE on PBS this fall, now’s the perfect time to explore the fascinating range of similar protagonists—from books. We asked crime fiction reviewers, authors, and insiders for their favorite female crime fighters, and they delivered a list stretching from an 11-year-old sleuth to a forensic archeologist. Whether you’re interested in cozy mysteries or futuristic police procedurals, there’s plenty to love in these seven recommendations.
New and returning female detectives on the small screen come to MASTERPIECE Mystery! beginning Sunday, October 16, 2022: fan-favorite Miss Scarlet and The Duke Season 2 (with Kate Phillips) at 8/7c, Magpie Murders (with Lesley Manville) at 9/8c, and Annika (with Nicola Walker) at 10/9c.
Lt. Eve Dallas from J.D. Robb's In Death Series
“My pick is Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the NYPD Homicide Squad, featured in the In Death series of futuristic police procedurals by J.D. Robb. Lieutenant Dallas is a strong-willed character with a dry sense of humor who advocates for victims. While offended by death, she deals with it. She’s dogged, loyal, and fights to the end for justice—even for victims who were crooked. Her relationship with her husband is another important thread, though Dallas doesn’t always understand all the “marriage rules.” Most of all, like me she is addicted to coffee.”
From Ayo Onatade, freelance crime fiction critic/commentator and blogger. She can be found blogging at Shotsmag Confidential
Precocious Flavia de Luce from Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce Mysteries
“There is no detective like Flavia de Luce, the 11-year-old protagonist of Alan Bradley’s 2009 novel The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (and its nine sequels). Flavia, a precocious thinker and chemistry whiz, lives in a dilapidated estate in the English countryside circa 1950—riding her bike through the fields, experimenting with various chemicals she might use to (slightly) poison her mean older sisters, and eventually putting herself to work solving a series of murders that occur near her home. She is unbelievably delightful, and her adventures will enthrall even the most veteran mystery reader.”
From Olivia Rutigliano, associate editor at LitHub CrimeReads
NYPD's Amelia Sachs from the Lincoln Rhyme Series by Jeffery Deaver
“In crime fiction, it’s usually the male detective who is the maverick, willing to go off the reservation to get the job done. But one of my favorite mavericks is NYPD police officer Amelia Sachs, introduced in Jeffery Deaver’s The Bone Collector alongside Lincoln Rhyme. She’s smart, driven, short-fused, and has a massive chip on her shoulder that drives her don’t-give-me-any-cr*p attitude. She takes risks and will happily ride roughshod over others’ feelings—or shoot them in the kneecaps—anything to get the job done.”
From Vaseem Khan, CWA Historical Dagger and Shamus Award-winning author of the Malabar House series.
Hildegarde Withers from Stuart Palmer's Hildegarde Withers Mysteries
“I’m not always the biggest fan of cozy mysteries, but I have a bizarre and unexpected affection for spinster-sleuth Hildegarde Withers [from The Hildegarde Withers Mysteries’ 14-book series.] Formerly a schoolteacher, the thin, angular, horse-faced snoop devoted her energy to aiding Inspector Oliver Piper of the New York City Police Department, driving him slightly crazy in the process. She is noted for her odd, even eccentric, choice of hats and, inexplicably, seems always to carry an umbrella. Stewart Palmer stated that she was based on his high school English teacher, Miss Fern Hackett, and on his father.”
From Otto Penzler, proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop and author of The Big Book of Female Detectives
LAPD's Kate Delafield from Katherine V. Forrest's Kate Delafield Mysteries
“Author Katherine V. Forrest is best known for her classic lesbian romance, Curious Wine, (queer women of a certain age must relinquish their L card if they haven’t read it), but Forrest also pens an award-winning mystery series featuring the closeted LAPD homicide detective, Kate Delafield; it’s the first of its kind. Kate uses smarts, grit, and quite a bit of alcohol as she battles crime on the sun-drenched streets of Los Angeles—and misogyny and homophobia inside her police department. The Kate Delafield Mysteries have all the noir feels I hope for in a detective series.”
From Cheryl Head, author of the Charlie Mack Motown Mysteries and Vice Chair of Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention
Joyce Meadowcroft from Richard Osman's Thursday Murder Club Mysteries
“The delightful Joyce Meadowcroft is one of a quartet of elderly detectives in Richard Osman’s big-hearted Thursday Murder Club Mysteries. Joyce is 70-something, living in the Coopers Chase Retirement Village in rural Kent, England. While she may seem like a fluffy old lady, Joyce is a hardened former ER nurse who keeps her head in a crisis. She’s an incorrigible flirt and a true romantic. She’s loyal to her friends—Elizabeth, Ron, and Ibrahim—but well aware of their foibles. Her occasional meandering narration is one of the highlights of this riotously funny and unexpectedly touching series.”
From Kate Stine, editor of Mystery Scene Magazine
Ruth Galloway from Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway Series
“Forensic archeologist Galloway is a strong, independent, well-rounded professional, and a single parent with a cadre of friends and family featured in all 16 books. She depends on science, history, and sometimes mythology to solve mysteries—both in the past and present. The setting is Norfolk, England, which besides being beautiful, (did I mention Galloway lives in a remote cottage near the saltmarsh?), provides local color, ambiance, and a few modern-day Druids. Picking up the latest title is like visiting an old friend with series characters, captivating location, and endlessly interesting archeological digs. But for me, the books are mostly about spending time with Ruth Galloway. She may be a bit prickly, but she’s full of heart and quite a unique female detective.”
From Janet Rudolph, editor of Mystery Readers Journal